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10 thoughts on “Oil on Water

  1. Trish Trish says:

    This novel deserves all the kudos heaped upon it The clarity of the writing the construction of the central mystery the steady buildup of tension the detailed character development—all are remarkable and accomplished The story is simple and straightforward but becomes nail bitingly tense as the cub reporter Rufus pursues the kidnappers of a woman on the Nigerian delta Rufus wouldn’t have volunteered for the dangerous mission but for wishing to accompany a veteran reporter he admires Zak Things go wrong One senses the dark nights hot greasy air creased with yellow torches flaming high from the oil rigs and a maelstrom of humanity wielding guns Oil permeates everything—the air the water the soil—and oil brings wealth to some and homelessness to many in Nigeria Rufus is both the first and last name of our narrator a single name he adopts just like Zak the reporter he most admired Zak is alcoholic broken in body and disillusioned but he is still a raging intellect with the heart of a lion These two men on their journey to find the kidnapped wife of a British oil engineer run into militants seeking adeuate reimbursement for oil revenues passing them by Soldiers seek to stymie the kidnapping plot Rufus and Zak witness the aftermath of their battle Rufus is a photographer first and his experience allows him to know how to take pictures that grip the eyeHabila was a journalist first He knows how to write a sentence that makes a picture The simplicity of the writing gives us immediate access to his story a few words show us the timbre of a voice the stiffness of a back the roll and gloss of an eye On Habila's website we are treated to a blurb from celebrated British author Jim Crace who says 'Helon Habila writes with intelligence and admirable narrative economy' That's it of course There is no waste In addition Habila makes all his characters vulnerable even the oilmen the kidnappers and their henchmen He takes seemingly incomprehensible events and shows them from every angle surprising us with their simplicity and their pathos He reveals terrifying truths and exhibits the almost endless resilience of people under unbearable pressures He shows us humanity as depraved and as generous as we know ourselves to beExuisite Unforgettable Praiseworthy

  2. Nancy Oakes Nancy Oakes says:

    a stunning novel one I highly recommend it to people who want to be enlightened about human and environmental conditions in other nations Maybe some people think it's not cool to be reading fiction about the damage caused by big bad corporations but really I don't care about opinions I want to know what's happening in the world Oil on Water highlights only a small portion of what's going on and what's been going on for some time but what is happening now and what's been happening in the Delta area of Nigeria for nearly 50 years is just shameful You can click here for a full on discussion or just continue reading for the abridged versionSet in the Niger Delta Oil on Water examines the changes brought about by the oil industry which drilled its first well in 1956 and has remained a permanent fixture ever since This very short but powerful novel the story seen through the eyes of a journalist named Rufus briefly brings together the stories of five different groups in the area 1 the people who live in the Delta whose traditional lands waterways and ways of life have been changed exploited and in many cases damaged beyond repair; 2 the numerous groups of freedom fightersmilitants whose operations pit them against 3 the oil companies and 4 the government soldiers who routinely patrol the area; and 5 the journalists who are invited to come and witness record and relay the truth of what's really going on in the Delta While the subject matter is disturbing on many levels Habila's writing is stunning conveying a very real sense of the human effects of the changes wrought by the oil industry thereThe frame for this novel is that the wife of an oil company executive has been kidnapped and a group of journalists have been invited to make the journey up the river for an interview with her and her captors Rufus is a new reporter at the 3rd largest paper in Port Harcourt and when the reuest to get the story comes in he volunteers for a job that all of the journalists know is potentially fatal after the earlier killings of two reporters on a similar mission Along with him is his idol Za a once great reporter now past his glory days once famous for his stories that emphasized the humanity beneath events As they make their journey upriver for the story they become part of it they are held as prisoners and encounter others who have also been taken captive; they are firsthand witnesses to murder and other violent acts and throughout their trek they experience the horrific devastation of waterways and land that used to sustain entire populations The story goes back and forth through time as Rufus relates both his past and Za's; Rufus also talks to various people they encounter along the way and hears their respective stories of how they came to be where they are at present The author spares no detail in describing the environmental devastation including the foul and sulphurous river with its floating dead and dying wildlife the fish that have disappeared the perpetually burning flares of gas that burn throughout the night and produce toxic fumes and land that is so oil soaked that nothing can grow But he also focuses heavily on the human side of things Government corruption is a reality that sustains poverty and poverty engenders groups like the militantsfreedom fighters who disrupt oil production until they're paid off kidnap for huge ransoms and are in a state of perpetual warfare with government soldiers that involves the lives of otherwise innocent people Tapping oil lines just to survive sometimes with disastrous results according to the author is another human conseuence as is the move to bigger cities where work is hard or nearly impossible to come by Oil and Water is a depressing novel but at the same time the story is very well written giving the reader pause to think If you're saying in your head oh crap not another story about the evil oil corporations well yes there is definitely a LOT of that here At its core however this is an all too human story based on realities that most people reading this book including myself can't even begin to fathom It brings to light an ongoing state of environmental devastation and human rights issues that most people either aren't aware of and well frankly probably don't care about because it's somewhere over in Africa and isn't relevant to daily living And that's really a shame I loved this novel and all I can say by way of recommendation is READ THIS BOOK

  3. Friederike Knabe Friederike Knabe says:

    Rufus a young journalist on his first major assignment travels into the troubled oil rich Nigerian Delta hoping to land his breakthrough news story interviewing the kidnappers of a British oil engineer's wife and proving that the captive is alive The dangers lurking among the oilfields and the pipelines that meander snake like across the Delta's waters cannot deter him especially as he is in the company of his much admired former mentor the erstwhile prominent reporter Za Helon Habila's new novel Oil on Water is a confidently crafted and absorbing in parts totally gripping chronicle of human ambitions tragedies and failures but also of love friendship and perseverance of the human spirit Evoking the rich and beautiful yet fragile environment of the Delta that is slowly being devastated by the greed for oil and money Habila perceptively guides his different narrative strands into a poignant story that is profoundly personal even where he raises broader political and societal concernsHabila weaves his story in a non chronological way it flows back and forth in time reflecting the reporters' meandering voyage through the vast intricate river delta We first meet Rufus and Za on the ninth day of their uest In flashbacks we learn about their back stories and over time that of other memorable characters Past events are hinted at early on Now they are on their own traveling by slow canoe dependent for guidance and safety on a local fisherman and his young son to find a safe place to stay while charting their next steps However their time among the mangroves and later on a very special island of worshippers is suddenly interrupted and they have to leave their journalist role behind and use all their talents to stay aliveObserving events through Rufus's eyes and mind the author takes us behind the news headlines and deep into the complicated uagmire of the violent conflict between the opposing sides and their claims for oil land and control Emotions run high suspicions and fear are constant companions Not only are deadly accidents common from fires and illegally tapped oil pipes the local military units tasked with protecting the oil business's interests are known for excessive vicious force when confronted by any type of resistance passive or not The militant rebels also have a reputation of violence and kidnapping as a means to raise the money for their ongoing struggle against the government authorities and the oil companies The local population of fishermen and farmers with memories of a simpler and healthier life and happier times are caught in the middle but also tempted by promised riches from the oil wells on their shoresHabila is an accomplished storyteller as well as a poet having won numerous awards in both fields His imagery is vivid at times cinematographic and his lyrical language comes to the fore in particular when he connects the reader with the atmospheric seascapes of the Delta Midriver the water was clear and mobile but toward the banks it turned brackish and still trapped by mangroves in whose branches the mist hung in clumps like cotton balls Ahead of us the mist arched clear over the water like a bridge our light wooden canoe would be so enveloped in the dense gray stuff that we couldn't see each other as we glided silently over the waterDespite the oftentimes violent events that Habila describes he softens their impact with his sensitive characterization of people who rarely are totally evil or totally good they are human beings A less rounded and skilled storyteller could have succumbed to the dangers of taking on a didactic preaching tone Not so While Habila has definite deep concerns on his mind he never allows these to take over or skew the balance in this richly imagined story of complex human beings in a many sided challenging situation To me the late writer and journalist Ken Saro Wiva the human rights activist and until his execution in 1995 foremost non violent defender of the rights of the indigenous Delta populations comes to mind as a likely and strong inspiration for the author

  4. Nnedi Nnedi says:

    This was a wonderful glimpse into the confusion violence desperation and hope of the Niger Delta region and its people It was up close and personal in the way I like when reading about conflicted parts of the world Too often writers bring the camera too far back so that readers can see the big picture; however in the process they lose the humanity of what's going on and the humans involved become like tiny pawns being moved about I hate that This book did the opposite I love thatNevertheless this wasn't as tantalizing and engulfing as my favorite Habila book Waiting for an Angel I also listened to the audio version and the reader's poor accent drove me crazy I have had to read my own work and do accents that I'm not all that good at So I understand it's now easy Clearly this reader was not Nigeria BUT there are basics that a professional reader should get when doing accents different from his or her own In this case he mispronounced Igbo and pronounced Lagos like a non Nigerian No no no I had to stop listening a few times because his accent was so annoying and off I listened to the audio book because of time constraints the only time I have to read are when I am cooking or working out If you have the the time do not get the audio bookAnyway a good Habila book but not my personal favorite I will read of his work certainly He's great

  5. Beverly Beverly says:

    Heading Disillusioned and DisheartenedOil on Water is the masterful third novel by Helon Habila and once again the author tackles another timely topic this time the deadly politics of oil in the Niger Delta The wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped by a group of militants and this in itself is not necessarily newsworthy as it is a common enough occurrence in the region with its own rules for the exchange of monies and the release of the kidnapped person As journalists are usually involved to help facilitate the process Rufus a young journalist takes the assignment to find “the white woman” as he senses this could be his big break He is excited to work with his mentor Za a once renowned journalist who has fallen from grace and now lives in an alcoholic haze But a seemingly routine event takes an unexpected turn which leads Rufus and Za on a life threatening and introspective journey Through this adventure both Rufus and the reader will be often reminded of Za’s sage advice “Remember the story is not always the final goal”One of the strengths of this enthralling story is the unfolding of the tale through Rufus’ memory that is often patchy and hallucinatory matching it to the environment with its twists and turns in the river and the hidden islands appearing and disappearing before your eyes This provides a cinematic uality as the scenes are vividly painted for the reader making the Niger Delta as much a character as Rufus and Za The expert storytelling allows the reader to feel empathy for the characters that live in an environment where often who is the good guy and who is the bad guy is dependent on the breathtaking tricks of chance that can result in life or death in a secondUsing Rufus as the detective in this mystery allows for the exploration of journalism as a vehicle for being the voice of the people and showing the frustration of reining in the truth when political and money forces are spinning the tale to their own making Through Rufus starts out searching for “the white woman” he ends up finding something transformative and profound and the reader is right there with him feeling the potent mix of humanity with the sharp edge of nervous anticipation of the truthI thoroughly enjoyed this book as it was part armchair adventure part cautionary tale and part social documentary Oil on Water provides a portrait of the Niger Delta and the people who live there The author deserves the accolades as he took an unsettling subject and captured it in a calming and haunting way that stays with me long after I have read the last pageI recommend this book to readers of literary fiction and those who are interested in environmental and energy issuesReviewed by BeverlyAPOOO Literary Book Review

  6. Cheryl Cheryl says:

    The opening chapter describes a harrowing river journey that immediately brings to mind Heart of Darkness It is not the same story but the physical surroundings the fog the fearful emotional atmosphereI'm thinking Mistah Kurtz he dead It was a strong powerful chapterThe story is of an ambitious Nigerian reporter who is trying to find the kidnapped wife of an expatriate European oil executive Nothing is as it seems and the plot moves slowly somewhat weighed down by the earnestness of the narrator There are a number of potentially fascinating characters but they lack definition; they all tend to sound the same Much of the prose is irrelevant and plodding She was pretty and clever and the sex was good but I didn't see myself spending the rest of my life with herGreed is destroying the society and environment of Nigeria the greed of the oil industry the greed of the world that demands the oil and the greed of the Nigerians But the ones with the most money wield the power so the Nigerians are suffering for that The story was a way to highlight the ineuities and cruelties I liked that this is a book written by a Nigerian with Nigerian protagonists

  7. Jen Brown Jen Brown says:

    The most interesting thing about this book is the subject matter of the political and environmental disaster caused by oil companies in Nigeria Eventhought this is an extremely important and interesting topic I must say that I don’t think I would have finished this novel if I didn’t have to read it for university Regarding this book as a novel rather than an important piece of Nigerian literature I couldn’t get behind the author’s style of writing The main character Rufus did not seem compelling to me and his inner monologs got tedious As for the mystery of the kidnaped woman I’d forget about it every so often if it weren’t because it got mentioned every couple of chapters On top of that the timeline is all over the place the constant flashbacks got confusing in a lot of instances and rarely helped advance the plot in any wayAgain I respect the topics and the representation of the people affected by the situation but I’m not a fan of this particular story

  8. Tobechukwu Udeigbo Tobechukwu Udeigbo says:

    This book revolves around the Niger Delta area the struggle for oil and power the contaminated water the fleeing Niger Deltan residents and the conseuences of greed Helon Habila takes the reader on a ride exposing the environmental conditions poor health insecurities and the harsh realities that people in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria are experiencing through the eyes of two journalists Za and Rufus Za who was nibbling on his past glory as an accomplished journalist was on a mission to reclaim his fame and his reputation after a lost love affair a fall out with his past employer and a past criminal record smeared his name He decided to go on a dangerous but newsworthy trip to rescue a British woman who was kidnapped by the militants for a ransom; which he believed would resuscitate his glory Tagging along with him is Rufus a photo journalist whose goal was to gain some recognition while pursing this story and to be accorded some respect among his journalist peers As these two men began their journey Helon visually captured the effect of oil spill in the area There are ferocious fires bulldozing villages daily which can be seen through the orange glows There is also a lack of security in this area Homegrown militants who are residents of the area but are against the oil companies who have exploited the lands are terrorizing people stealing and threatening anyone who is not in support of their mission Their goal is to secure their lands and partake in its glorious financial output The environmental degradation of the area is captured by Helon's words which informed the readers about the negative economic impact of oil spill Rivers that habited big fishes and crabs and was a source of their livelihood have degraded because of the pollution Dead fishes and dead bodies often washed off the shores and many residents in the area travel far in other to get uality fishes and crabs to sell I did not know much about the Niger Delta area and their struggles but this book opened my eyes to what is currently happening there I often read about the militants as thugs and jobless young people from a negative perspective; but this book humanized and shed a positive light on them I cannot imagine being a resident of this area and not feeling a pang of pain over what the oil companies are doing to my people and to my land After reading this book I developed a new perspective about the Niger Delta militants and actually applaud them for fighting to keep these greedy politicians and expatriates at bayI hope someone from the government reads this book and begins a reconciliatory process about this issue which is damaging lives and have rendered thousands homeless How can a whole village move from their ancestral home because they feel unsafe in their land? How dare the Nigerian government kidnap a chief who is the most respectable person in a community from his home and return his dead body to his community because he refused to sign off his lands to hungry and selfish oil company CEO's? I recommend a sincere apology to be tendered to the Niger Deltans and for these residents to get a fair percentage from any profit made from oil sales They should be compensated by awarding everyone a monthly stipend security free healthcare and uality education at no cost to them In addition I would suggest that a member from each community elected by the people should be a member of the Executive board in every oil company in the area This would help prioritize and consider the needs of the Niger Deltans before any decision is made by the boardI rate this book 9510 and highly recommend it to every young Nigerian especially those who desire to take up leadership roles in the country Our decisions matter and have ripple effects So when we seat at the table lets be on the right side of history for posterity

  9. Marcy prager Marcy prager says:

    This book opened up my eyes to what is happening in the Niger Delta Two journalists head out to find an English woman the wife of a prominent oil engineer who had been kidnapped for ransom expecting the oil company to give them millions The Delta Niger is all about peaceful islanders whose lives have been turned upside down by the armies of the oil companies who are taking their land by force their homes polluting their waters and the environment Many of these peaceful island people have turned militant trying to get back their lives and their livelihoods with guns and violence on both sides It is up to the two reporters to discover the truth behind the kidnapping of the English womanIn essence they discover the larger picture the truth about this region that describes Haboila's title Oil on Water As the reader becomes totally engrossed in this story the reader also discovers to what ends journalists will go to find the perfect story only to find the real story Helon Habila continuously describes the murky waters the humid air and the barren landscape of the Niger Delta He makes many interesting symbolic references to the flares of the oil company's fires Definitely worth the read

  10. Rebecca Rebecca says:

    Oil On Water by Helon Habila is a novel that takes in Nigeria where oil has become the main concern The oil companies are buying up villages and destroying the environment That’s when the militant group starts fighting back and one of the ways they do so is by kidnapping important people and family members of the oil company This is where Rufus and Za two reporters come in They are sent to determine a ransom for “the white woman” What appears to be a simple but frightening task turns into unexpected complicated and unwanted adventure Despite it’s slightly confusing flashbacks and double flashbacks the story keeps you reading wanting to figure out the mystery and leaves you content and fulfilled by the end Overall Oil On Water is a thrilling and uniue story

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Oil on Water The new generation of twenty first century African writers have now come of age Without a doubt Habila is one of the best —Emmanuel DongalaIn the oil rich and environmentally devastated Nigerian Delta the wife of a British oil executive has been kidnapped Two journalists a young upstart Rufus and a once great now disillusioned veteran Za are sent to find her In a story rich with atmosphere and taut with suspense Oil on Water explores the conflict between idealism and cynical disillusionment in a journey full of danger and unintended conseuencesAs Rufus and Za navigate polluted rivers flanked by exploded and dormant oil wells in search of the white woman they must contend with the brutality of both government soldiers and militants Assailed by irresolvable versions of the truth about the woman's disappearance dependent on the kindness of strangers of unknowable loyalties their journalistic objectivity will prove unsustainable but other values might yet salvage their human dignity

  • Paperback
  • 239 pages
  • Oil on Water
  • Helon Habila
  • English
  • 18 October 2016
  • 9780393339642

About the Author: Helon Habila

Helon Habila was born in Nigeria in 1967 He studied literature at the University of Jos and taught at the Federal Polytechnic Bauchi before moving to Lagos to work as a journalist In Lagos he wrote his first novel Waiting for an Angel which won the Caine Prize in 2001 Waiting for an Angel has been translated into many languages including Dutch Italian Swedish and FrenchIn 2002 he moved